McFarland

Wednesday Bible Study by Pastor Kelli

Light a candle

Read John Matthew 5:1-12

This Sunday is All Saints Sunday.  An annual commemoration of the saints dear to us who have died.  During worship this weekend, Pastor Tim and I will name those from our MLC community who have died in the past year.  If you join us for worship, you are invited to have a candle ready for this portion of the liturgy.  You may light your candle in remembrance of your own saints – those who died recently and those who have been gone far too long.

While this day tends to carry more of a bittersweet or somber mood, we still remember our saints in their fullness – the ways they inspired, shaped, and formed us, but also their quirks and funny habits; all the particular details that, when combined, made them who they were.  We also give thanks for the saints still living.  Those friends, family members, and mentors who continue to accompany us on our journey of faith.  Our conversation partners off whom we bounce ideas and dreams and convictions as we discern how to be disciples in God’s world.

These people are saints to us, not because of their skills and lofty attributes, but because of God’s promise to love all whom God made.  They are saints, not because of what they have done, but because of what God has done for them – and for us – in great love, compassion, mercy, and grace.  In the words of Joy Moore, “those saints have been a blessing for us.”[1]

This leads us into today’s Gospel reading: The Beatitudes.  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, from which we hear this list of blessings, is recorded in chapter five of Matthew’s Gospel.  This is very early on in the story.  In chapter three Jesus is baptized.  In chapter four he is tempted, proclaims that “the kingdom of heaven has come near” (4.17), calls disciples to follow him, and then moves throughout Galilee teaching and healing diseases and sickness.  Stories about him “spread throughout Syria. […and…] great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.” (4.24-25) And then we have the Sermon on the Mount.

It is to this crowd of people, from the Decapolis, Jerusalem, and beyond, a group of people he has healed and taken care of…it is this large, diverse, group that Jesus declares is blessed.  Scholar Matt Skinner points out that the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ first public statement, his inaugural address, and he starts it with all the groups of people who are blessed.[2]

Allow me a little Greek language nerdiness – these blessings are in the indicative mood, not the imperative mood.  Jesus is not saying, “go be poor in spirit, go mourn, go be merciful, and then you will be blessed and inherit the earth and receive mercy.”  The indicative mood tells us that Jesus is promising those who already are poor in spirit, mourning, and meek that they already are blessed and have received the kingdom of God and will be comforted.  And with the size of the crowd gathered, odds are someone in that group is hungering for righteousness and persecuted for righteousness’ sake and feeling meek and offering mercy.

Maybe because we are preparing for All Saints Sunday, or maybe because we are living in a time of a global pandemic where over 225,000 people have died in the United States alone,[3] or maybe because we’re all keenly aware of the smaller losses we’re all experiencing: loss of time and closeness with family and friends, loss of communal worship, loss of jobs or wages or housing or food security, loss of favorite activities and traditions…the list of losses just keeps going.  Because all of these reasons, I was drawn to Jesus’ promise: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (v4)

But there is some sneaky good news in this promise.  The word for “comfort” is more than just compassion and kindness.  One more dive into the Greek: the word is parkleytheyson.  Professor Raj Nadella teaches that this word is “derived from the Greek word paraclete, which was used in courtroom settings in the first century Greco-Roman context. It referred to lawyers and advocates and has the connotation of interceding on behalf of those who need assistance.”[4]

There’s a sense of advocacy – of God advocating on our behalf.  Those who mourn the loss of loved ones, they are not alone.  Those who mourn the ability to provide food or shelter or safety for their families, they are not alone.  Those who mourn not being recognized as part of God’s beautiful and wonderful creation, they are not alone.  Those who mourn the peace of familiarity and the loss of stability, they are not alone.  God is advocating on our behalf and working to reverse the mourning into comfort.

But it’s not just God.  As disciples and followers and students of Christ, just as God and fellow disciples have advocated for us, we are called to reflect that same love in the world.[5]  God calls us to the work of heralding the good news of the kingdom of heaven.  God calls us to join God in Christ as advocates for those who are mourning and yearning for a sense of comfort.  God advocates and comforts us, and then invites us share that same care with others.  Thanks be to God.

[1] Joy J. Moore from: Working Preacher, “Brainwave 750: All Saints (Year A) – Nov. 1, 2020” Oct 19, 2020, video, 20:02, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogwAazP4E7M.

[2] Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, “Matt Skinner – Sermon on Matthew 5 – Craft of Preaching 2019” Oct 22, 2019, video, 20:22, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hc1LSdClHU.

[3] “Trends in Number of COVID-19 Cases in the US Reported to CDC, by State/Territory,” CDC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last modified October 27, 2020, https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#trends_dailytrendscases.

[4] Raj Nadella, “Preach This Week, November 1, 2020, Gospel Reading, Commentary on Matthew 5:1-12,” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4652 (accessed October 25, 2020).

[5] Nadella.

Reflection Questions

1) Who are the saints that have shaped and formed you? Which saints are your travel companions today, as you continue on your journey of faith?

2) What losses are you grieving in particular at this moment? Name them in prayer and entrust them to God’s care.

3) How might we be agents of God’s advocacy and work of divine reversals?

4) How might God be calling you to respond to this passage?

Extinguish the candle